With National Non-Smoking Week just around the corner, the Ottawa Council on Smoking and Health is raising awareness about the infiltration of second-hand smoke (SHS) in multi-unit dwellings.
"Our organization receives calls and emails weekly from people living in apartments and condominiums who are being involuntarily exposed to SHS from neighbouring units," says Pippa Beck, President of the Ottawa Council on Smoking and Health. "It is ironic that individuals are protected from SHS in workplaces and public places, yet many people come home to smoky apartments and condominiums. We believe that everyone has a right to the same protection from SHS at home-whether they live in a single family home or in a multi-unit dwelling."
Laurie O'Nanskie lives in an apartment in Ottawa and literally has to seal herself up in her unit each night to prevent the smoke from entering her home. "I tape the crack under my front door and block off the vents, but still the smoke finds its way in. It's awful. I've talked to the landlord on numerous occasions but nothing has been done about it," says O'Nanskie.
Larry Graham, an Ottawa resident living with both asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), looks forward to the day when he has the choice to rent a 100% smoke-free apartment. "So many great changes have happened in the last few years with smoke-free bylaws that protect people's health, so it's hard to believe that I'm still exposed to second-hand smoke in my apartment," says Mr. Graham. "Some smokers in our building leave the doors of their apartments open so that they can vent the smoke, but that smoke drifts into the hallways and into other people's apartments and it makes them sick."
Second-hand smoke (SHS) is a toxic mix of over 4,000 chemicals. The 2006 U.S. Surgeon General's report confirms that scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure. In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classified SHS as a "Class A carcinogen," a category reserved for dangerous chemicals known to cause cancer in humans. In 2005, the California Environmental Protection Agency classified SHS as a "toxic air contaminant".
Smoke-free homes are already the norm in Canada-three-quarters of households have policies prohibiting smoking indoors. A recent poll commissioned by the Ontario Tobacco-Free Network found that if given the choice, two-thirds of Ontario residents would prefer to live in a smoke-free building.
"People in my building are fighting for the right to breathe clean air," says Mr. Graham. "Smoke-free apartment buildings and condominiums would protect people's health. I for one would certainly breathe much easier."
The Ottawa Council on Smoking and Health is asking developers and landlords to think about declaring some of their properties smoke-free. "Smoke-free does not mean smoker-free," says Ms. Beck. "Just as people now step outside workplaces and public places for a cigarette, we are asking that there be multi-unit dwellings where people step outside to smoke to avoid SHS being circulated inside the building."
Research shows that, depending on the age and design of a building, up to 65% of the air in a unit can come from other units in the building. Second-hand smoke can seep into a unit in a number of ways:
- From a neighbour's patio or balcony;
- From outdoor common areas through open windows or doors;
- Through electrical outlets, cable or phone jacks, or ceiling fixtures;
- through cracks and gaps around sinks, countertops, windows, doors, floors, walls, and ceilings;
- Through the building's ventilation system;
- From off-gassing objects, especially soft furnishings such as carpets and draperies.
Making a building 100% smoke-free is not only healthier, but it also makes good business sense, since it:
- Reduces the risk of fire
- Lowers maintenance and repair costs
- Reduces painting frequency and costs, and
- Increases the marketability of housing properties-especially considering that 80% of Canadians do not smoke.
For more information, contact:
Pippa Beck, President Ottawa Council on Smoking and Health
Tel: 613-230-4211 (w); 613-722-6187 (h)
Carmela Graziani, Ottawa Council on Smoking and Health